The dustup between the White House and the Boston Herald has the media opening up more about their frustrations with the lack of access given the media by the Obama administration. The Herald’s Jessica Heslam follows up today with remarks from the White House Correspondents Association, noting that the paucity of open press conferences has the press corps “concerned”:
A frustrated White House Press Corps chief says her members are “constantly fighting” for more access to the media-elusive President Obama — who hasn’t fielded questions from reporters since early April, despite an onslaught of major events, from the “birther” controversy and spiking gas prices to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Heavy-handed dealings with the press, limited access and strong efforts at message control are emerging as patterns in the Obama White House, journalists and media watchers say.
“We’re constantly reminding the White House that we would like to see more press conferences and more opportunities for reporters to ask questions of the president,” said Caren Bohan, vice president of the White House Correspondents’ Association. “That’s a big concern for us.”
The Obama White House wouldn’t be the first to freeze a media outlet over some perceived slight. They are, however, terribly inept at it, as media analyst Jay Rosen from PressThink told the Herald, calling it “amateur hour” at the White House and calling the Briefing Room situation “increasingly absurd.” Nor is it the first time that Obama’s team has declared war on a media outlet. They did the same thing to Fox News in an attempt to pander to their base, which backfired when other media outlets defended Fox and criticized the White House for attempting to manipulate their press coverage.
The Herald recalls an anecdote from the Carter administration, which understood a little better how to play this game:
Veteran White House reporter Curtis Wilkie, who covered former President Jimmy Carter’s administration for the Boston Globe, said that Democratic commander in chief “so disliked” the Hub broadsheet that he gave the conservative Herald an interview rather than the Globe, because the administration felt the Globe had been unfair to Carter.
“He didn’t care for the Globe. It didn’t matter to me,” said Wilkie, who teaches journalism at the University of Mississippi. “Nothing wrong with being in an adversarial position with the White House. Better to be adversarial than too cozy.
Giving exclusive interviews is a legitimate way to favor friendly media outlets, or as in the above case, to show disfavor to another. But the pool assignments should be decided by media outlets, Bohan insists, in order to ensure that coverage of news events isn’t manipulated. Otherwise, any White House can pick and choose favorite water carriers in order to avoid transparent coverage of their actions and words.
Rosen also wondered why this administration seems so “indifferent” to explaining itself to the public. I’m not sure if it’s indifference or arrogance, but functionally it’s six of one, half-dozen of the other.